My most difficult role as a human resources consultant is to help clients fire an employee. When I meet with clients that are having performance or behavior problems, I can see the stress on their faces and can hear the pain in their voices. Firing an employee can often turn even the bravest of managers into nervous wrecks.
The Starting Point:
It has been my experience that the best starting point is to begin from a perspective of mercy and grace. This requires a manager to focus on an employee’s knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) first, before considering other issues. An important question is, ”Can this person actually perform this responsibility?” Now that may seem to be a strange question, but it is the most important one to start with. If the employee’s answer is ”No,” then training is a more beneficial solution than some form of discipline. To execute discipline in such a situation only destroys the individual’s commitment to the vision and goals of the organization and it destroys the organizational morale of the entire staff.
If the answer is ”Yes,” then the manager must ask a second question. ”Is there anything about the way we operate this organization that could cause a performance problem?” Some possible examples of this might be a lack of clear performance expectations, poor/inadequate equipment and/or policies and procedures that are confusing and contradictory. These are called systemic problems and the three examples shared are only a small sample of possibilities. This means the system is causing the problem and not necessarily the employee. The answer to such a problem is to fix the system. In the case of the three examples it might mean clearer performance expectations, updated equipment and a review of policies and procedures.
If the employee can perform the job and no systemic hindrances exist then some form of discipline is appropriate. The question then becomes one of what and how much discipline is appropriate.
As a general rule, most of the attorneys and human resources professionals I work with recommend some form of due process system of discipline. It would be my recommendation that one never promises to follow a due process system either orally or in writing even though I agree with the principle.
Step One – Start with a Talk
Most would recommend that a manager start with a talk. Meet with the person and explain what is wrong with the performance. It is important in this meeting to focus on the problem and not the person. Comments such as, “You made too many mistakes on this letter,” should probably be avoided and replaced with a comment like, “This letter has too many mistakes.” Focusing on the problem allows the employee to maintain his/her dignity and moves you on to solving the problem. Remember write some notes to yourself regarding the discussion.
Step Two – Put it in Writing
There are many ways to perform do this, but generally there are four things that need to be included and they are:
- The manager’s description of the current inadequate performance or behavior.
- The manager’s statement of the required performance or behavior.
- The employee’s plan for achieving the required performance or behavior including dates of achievement.
- The manager’s and employee’s signatures.
The purpose of having the employee prepare the plan for achieving the required performance or behavior is twofold. First, if the employee prepares the plan then he/she is more likely to be motivated to carry out the plan. If you prepare the plan then you are motivated and not the employee. Second, the employee’s plan shows that he/she is familiar with the problem and that it has been communicated to him/her. I didn’t know is a more difficult defense when the person with the problem has written the solution.
Step Three – Dismissal
Dismissal should seldom be a surprise. Most managers hate the thought of dismissing an employee, but there are times when it is necessary. Trouble makers, gossipers, thieves, and persons who after much coaching won’t perform or behave in a desired manner need to be dismissed. Troublemakers, gossipers, and thieves need to be dismissed immediately. They are a poison to an organization and a hindrance to the performance of the other employees.
Dismiss the person with another person witnessing the action. Prepare for the meeting. Write down exactly what you want to say and read it if necessary to stay on course. Have the person’s check written and present it to him/her at the conclusion of the meeting. Have the person who witnessed the dismissal monitor the person removing his/her personal items for his/her desk and office. Have the same person walk to the exit of the building with the person, not allowing discussions with other employees along the way.
No one enjoys this responsibility, but it is a management responsibility that must be carried out from time-to-time. Remember there is a proverb that indicates it is a good idea to get counsel from other wise persons. When you are having problems, getting the input of your attorney and/or an experienced human resources professional is a good idea. Such input can help you to begin from the perspective of mercy and grace and help you from making a mistake that may cost you and your organization thousands of dollars.